NHL Year in Review for 2012

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A look back at 2012

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It was a strange year for the NHL. For the first half of 2012, everything was rolling along positively: the Winter Classic (and 24/7: Road to the Winter Classic), the All-Star Game, an entertaining rush to the playoffs, a turbulent quarterfinal round, the emergence of the Los Angeles Kings as the eventual Stanley Cup champions, the 2012 NHL Draft and Awards, record revenues and huge contracts doled out in the offseason.

But then the tone shifted suddenly and, since about July or August, emotions in and around the league have become as different as day and night. Now all the talk is about lockout, lost revenues, players going abroad, tough questions, tougher answers and everything like that.

Since there wasn't a single NHL game played in 2012 after the day the Kings clinched their first-ever Stanley Cup championship, picking some of the biggest hockey moments of the year really means picking some of the biggest hockey moments of basically half of the year. Despite that sad fact, there were still some huge moments worth picking—and probably some that were forgotten, too.

2012 was also the 20th anniversaries of many of the league's younger clubs: the Ottawa Senators, Anaheim Ducks and Tampa Bay Lightning all began play in 1992. For the Senators, part of their 20th anniversary festivities included hosting their first-ever All-Star Game and electing many hometown guys to the game's starting lineup. The Ducks and Lightning's celebrations have been dampened by the lockout, even though the Lightning have a slick anniversary logo and the Ducks have been strengthening their commitment to grassroots hockey in Southern California in the meantime.

Let's look back now at the big NHL moments of 2012 and hope for many more in 2013. (Which, of course, would be helped along quite nicely by the lockout ending—hint, hint.)

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Jan. 2: 2012 Winter Classic

winter classic
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The first Winter Classic to not be held on New Year's Day due to conflicts with an NFL game and Philadelphia's traditional Mummers Parade, the Philadelphia Flyers took part in their second Winter Classic (their first time hosting) and the New York Rangers got their first taste of the quirks of playing outdoors. The game was actually delayed due to sun glare and warm temperatures, but got underway later in the afternoon.

Brayden Schenn scored his first career goal during the second period and Claude Giroux made it 2-0 Flyers, but then the Rangers started fighting back as soon as Giroux scored. Michael Rupp—who played in the 2011 Winter Classic—knotted the game at two, then Brad Richards added the last goal needed for the win. Henrik Lundqvist stopped a Danny Briere penalty shot late to seal the deal.

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Jan. 7: Iggy Hits 500

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The affable captain of the Calgary Flames, Jarome Iginla became just the 42nd player in the entire history of the NHL to hit the 500 goal mark when he scored number 500 against the Minnesota Wild on Jan. 7. He's the 15th player in NHL history to have scored all 500 of those goals with the same organization, too.

In March 2012, he potted his 30th goal of the season, making it his 11th consecutive season of at least 30 goals scored.

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Jan. 26-29: 2012 All-Star Game

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Ottawa Senators fans, excited about the All-Star Game coming to their home barn, voted four of their hometown guys to the starting lineup. Erik Karlsson got more than 930,000 votes. In fact, Sergei Gonchar was almost voted into the lineup, which would've made it five Senators and one Bruin, but Dion Phaneuf had about 11,000 votes on him.

Zdeno Chara made Tyler Seguin sweat it out in the fantasy draft (in which Joffrey Lupul was lustily booed by the Ottawa crowd every time he so much as breathed due to the intra-Ontario rivalry) before finally picking him and asking his young teammate to hug it out with him. (Seguin obliged.) He also chose his teammate Tim Thomas, but then picked Carey Price too, bridging the gap with the Boston-Montreal rivalry. Daniel Alfredsson picked Logan Couture last and he won the consolation prize of a fancy new car.

In the SuperSkills portion of the weekend, Chara's 108.8 mph slapshot in the Hardest Shot competition set a new record and beat his previous 105.9 mph tally. Patrick Kane's Superman costume, soft hands and trick exploding puck won him the Breakaway Challenge. Rookie Carl Hagelin took a sub-13 second lap in the Fastest Skater competition.

In the big game, Team Chara beat Team Alfredsson 12-9, giving Thomas his record fourth win in an All-Star Game. Rapper and Toronto native Drake performed during one of the intermissions, creating fanboys out of a lot of the players. Interest in the weekend's events broke ratings records in America and Canada. Plus, a lot of people probably got their first exposure to beaver tails, the delicious fried dough treats commonly sold as street food in Canada's capital city.

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Feb. 2: Gagner les Huit

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Sam Gagner hadn't even been born yet when Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey both put up eight-point games for the Edmonton Oilers. But in a big 8-4 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Feb. 2, Gagner joined the Oilers' record books and was named first, second and third stars of the game. He completed a hat trick, added another goal for good measure and tallied up four separate assists as the Oilers had an offensive explosion in the second and third periods.

Speaking of records last set before Gagner's first day on earth, he exceeded Jari Kurri's 1988 team record of six points in a game. He also became the 13th player in league history to have an eight-point night, which was last achieved by Mario Lemieux, also in 1988.

Please pardon the French pun in the title of this slide. Gagner means 'to win' in French, so that phrase roughly means 'win the eight'.

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Feb. 14: The Red Wings Love Their Fans

red wings
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A 3-1 win over the Dallas Stars on Valentine's Day was a lovely treat for Detroit Red Wings faithful. That win made it 21 straight wins inside the Joe Louis Arena, which beat a record first set by the 1929-30 Boston Bruins and matched by the 1975-76 Philadelphia Flyers. Some argue that the record doesn't mean much by comparison since the 2011-12 Red Wings can win games in shootouts, whereas the Bruins and Flyers of yore had to settle for ties. But Brad Stuart, who scored in this 3-1 win, didn't care much for that argument and recognized the 21 wins for what they were: a huge achievement.

The 21 straight home wins started with a Nov. 5, 2011 victory over the Anaheim Ducks (5-0) and continued throughout December, past the New Year and into February. Later in the month, though, a Vancouver Canucks win in Joe Louis snapped the streak.

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March 12: A Thousand for Koivu

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There was a time in Saku Koivu's life where, in the darker corners of his mind, he may have been unable to imagine ever playing in 1,000 NHL games. When he was being treated for Burkitt's lymphoma, it may have seemed impossible or unfeasible. But he has now been cancer-free for a decade and is now with the Anaheim Ducks, with whom he hit the 1,000-game mark on March 12 when the Ducks lost to the Colorado Avalanche 3-2 in overtime. Koivu is the fifth player born in Finland to ever hit 1,000.

Other players who played their 1,000th NHL game in 2012 include Olli Jokinen, Patrik Elias, Matt Cullen, Chris Phillips, Tomas Holmstrom, Petr Sykora, Zdeno Chara, Derek Morris and Steve Staios.

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March 30: Rewarding Barry Trotz's Loyalty

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In the waning days of the 2011-12 regular season, the Nashville Predators beat the Detroit Red Wings on March 30 by a 4-1 score. It wasn't just any other late-season win, though: it was Barry Trotz's 500th win with the Predators, making him the 17th coach ever to hit this marker and the fifth coach ever to win 500 games with just one franchise.

Trotz has been behind the bench with Nashville since their very first game in 1998 and admires general manager David Poile (who has also been with Nashville since Day One) for the way he treats everyone in the gang.

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April 7: Stamkos and Malkin's Big Days

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April 7, the last day of the regular season, was a big one for two different players on two separate teams. On the road in Winnipeg, Tampa Bay Lightning star Steven Stamkos (above, second from left) potted his 60th goal of the season, thus sealing his selection for the Rocket Richard Trophy. He became the second player in 15 years to score 60 goals in a season.

Meanwhile in Pittsburgh that same day, Penguins alternate captain Evgeni Malkin scored his 50th goal of the 2011-12 campaign. He had to shoulder a lot of duties when Sidney Crosby was away with injuries, but performed very well under pressure, winning the Hart Trophy for his work.

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Late April: The Quite Hectic Quarterfinals

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Mid-to-late April was prime television-watching time for hockey fans everywhere. The first round of the playoffs were more accessible than ever to a wider audience because of NBC's big new TV deal with the league, whereas in years past, some games would be nationwide and others would be scattered around regional outlets. Not only was it easier for people to watch the games—although finding them on NBC's umbrella of channels was sometimes difficult—when they did, they found intriguing content.

The Florida Panthers found themselves in the postseason for the first time since 2000 and pushed their series with the New Jersey Devils to seven games, bringing back their playoff tradition of tossing plastic rats on the ice (above) and sparking more fan interest in a nontraditional market. The St. Louis Blues, who hadn't been to the playoffs since 2009, won their quarterfinal matchup with the San Jose Sharks, earning their first trip to the semifinals since 2002. The Phoenix Coyotes beat the Chicago Blackhawks—though not without controversy, especially when Raffi Torres hit and concussed Marian Hossa—to win their first series since 1987.

In the series between the Nashville Predators and Detroit Red Wings, Shea Weber also drew controversy, but no supplemental discipline, when he drove Henrik Zetterberg head-first into the glass at the very end of Game 1. Zetterberg cracked his helmet, Weber paid out $2,500 in fines and the Predators later won in five games.

Tensions flared between intra-state rivals Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers during their series. In total, both teams scored 56 goals in their seven-game series, including 10 by the Penguins alone in their Game 4 win. Game 3 saw more than 36 different penalties called and eight players earning 10-minute misconducts. Sidney Crosby, who isn't usually much of a fighter, went toe-to-toe with Claude Giroux. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma even had to pay a $10,000 fine when Craig Adams drew an instigator penalty. In the end, the many hockey minds who predicted a Pittsburgh Stanley Cup were wrong when the Flyers took the series.

The defending champion Boston Bruins met the Washington Capitals in a series that stretched to seven games wherein every single one was decided by just one goal either way for the first time in league history. The Ottawa Senators gave the first-seed New York Rangers enough trouble in their series to stretch that one to seven as well.

All in all, it was a tumultuous two weeks or so—and really just the start of the playoff fun.

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May-June: Rise of the Kings

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The Los Angeles Kings emerged from their quarterfinal matchup with the Vancouver Canucks having defeated the President's Trophy winners and conference champions--not bad for a team that often struggled to just score in regular-season games. They then pummeled the St. Louis Blues in the semifinals, sweeping them out in four games. In a dramatic conference final of firsts for the Kings and the Phoenix Coyotes, Los Angeles won in five games, setting some new NHL playoff records along the way.

Then came the New Jersey Devils, marking the first time the Kings had visited the Stanley Cup Finals since they lost it all in 1993. When Los Angeles won the Cup on June 11 after a six-game series, they became the first eighth-seeded team to win the glory and they did it in front of their home crowd, which hadn't been done since another California-based team, the Anaheim Ducks, won at home in 2007.

Interestingly, the Kings' win kept a pattern alive of teams that began their seasons in Europe going on to win it all. The Kings kicked off their 2011-12 season in Germany with an exhibition game, then played the New York Rangers in Sweden and the Buffalo Sabres in Germany as part of NHL Premiere. In 2010-11, the Boston Bruins started their season with exhibitions in Northern Ireland and Premiere games in the Czech Republic. In 2009-10, the Chicago Blackhawks went to Finland for Premiere. The 2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins also premiered in Sweden.

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May 31: So Long, Mr. Perfect

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Nicklas Lidstrom hung up his skates as captain of the Detroit Red Wings on May 31 with 20 consecutive NHL seasons under his belt and six years captaining the team. The four-time Stanley Cup champion, Conn Smythe winner, Olympic gold medalist, Triple Gold Club member and seven-time Norris Trophy winner who was voted into 12 All-Star Games over the course of his career was the first European-born and trained captain to win the Stanley Cup. He never missed the postseason in any of his 20 playing years. Admired by faces all around the league, Lidstrom was often referred to as The Perfect Human or Mr. Perfect.

He's not going to stray too far from Detroit, though. He and his family live in the area and his kids go to local schools, as seen on his episode of "NHL 36". A week after he retired, he and his wife bought a full-page ad in the Detroit newspapers to give their thanks to the city for their hospitality. About a month later, he was named a scout in the Red Wings organization, where he will be especially able to look for budding talent in his native Sweden.

Other players who said goodbye after this season include Ethan Moreau, John Madden, Steve Staios and Jaroslav Spacek.

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June 22: A Subban in the Spoked B

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Malcolm Subban is the second of three sons in the Subban family. Elder brother PK plays defense for Montreal and youngest brother Jordan is still a ways away from draft eligibility. PK and Jordan are both blueliners, which Malcolm used to be as well, until he decided to step out from under his father's wing and put on goalie gear when he was 12. (He was partially motivated by a desire for people to praise him by saying “Holy moly, what a goalie.”) His stellar performance with the OHL Belleville Bulls led to him topping the list of North American draft-eligible goalies in Central Scouting reports throughout the season.

Goaltenders aren't usually picked very high up in the draft, though, with few exceptions. A lot of great netminders are actually picked closer to last place than to first. It takes time for goalies to grow and get experience, so drafting them can be kind of hit or miss for general managers and teams.

But with his eye to the future of goaltending for his team, Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli made an audacious pick near the end of the first round of the 2012 draft. The buzz from the Jordan Staal trade to the Carolina Hurricanes (on his wedding night, no less) had died down and many expected the last few picks of the evening to be kind of ho-hum. Not so when Chiarelli and company took the podium and announced that the younger Subban would be joining the ranks of the Spoked B.

Of course, Boston and Montreal have been rivals ever since Betty White was a little girl and the rivalry shows no signs of thawing. But now it has a brotherly element to it. Right after he was picked, Subban hugged all of his assembled family members, including PK, who was smiling and laughing. Since his selection, the younger Subban has been standing out again with Belleville and in international competitions like the 2013 World Junior Championship, too.

Only time will tell if Subban will continue to improve or burn out along the way, but if he continues to grow and get better, there could be a day where PK's prime scoring chance is denied by none other than his little brother. That will be a fun day.

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Sept. 4: The Young Man and the C

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Gabriel Landeskog finished an impressive rookie season with some big achievements in calendar 2012: his first five-minute major penalty for fighting, top rookie of the month honors for February, leading the Colorado Avalanche in goals, having perfect attendance for games and winning the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.

But on Sept. 4, the Avalanche made waves again when they added a new distinction to Landeskog's resume: C for captain. This made him the youngest captain ever in NHL history. When Sidney Crosby was selected as Penguins captain, he was a full 11 days older at that time than Landeskog was on Sept. 4, 2012.

Landeskog got another taste of leadership when he was an alternate captain beside Daniel Alfredsson for the Swedish squad in the 2012 World Championship as the second youngest player on the Tre Kronor senior-level team.

He hasn't yet had a chance to perform captain duties during an Avalanche game, but when he does, only time will tell what could happen.

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Through Sept. 15: Big Money Mayhem

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The offseason of 2012 was marked by dollar signs—huge ones, too—as players were awarded lucrative new contracts. Taylor Hall got his first big-boy contract and it is quite big indeed at seven years and $6 million. (His linemate Jordan Eberle got six years at $6 million.) Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin combined for ten years and more than $10 million in new signings. Kari Lehtonen was re-signed for five years at $5.9 million. Evander Kane, Cam Fowler, Tyler Ennis and Milan Lucic all got big new deals on Sept. 15, the last day before the collective bargaining agreement expired and triggered the lockout.

But no whopping offseason contracts are quite like the huge ones doled out to Zach Parise and Ryan Suter (above). The Minnesota Wild, perhaps looking to change their reputation as not being a playoff threat, brought Parise and Suter in for 13 years and $98 million each, or 26 years and $196 million combined. Since the start of the lockout, there have been some whispers that the team doesn't want to honor those big deals in full, but when the two of them signed those deals on July 4—well, Independence Day celebrations weren't the only fireworks that day.